Over the weekend our friends at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton held their annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services. The Pilgrimage, held every year on the first Sunday in October, is a special Mass in honor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton as Patroness of the Sea Services. Mother Seton’s son William served in the United States Navy from 1818 to 1834. Her son Richard served, as a civilian, as a captain’s clerk on the U.S.S. Cyane from June of 1822 until his death on June 26, 1823. Richard was buried at sea. Shortly after Mother Seton’s canonization in 1975, then-Chief of Navy Chaplains, Monsignor John J. O’Connor (later John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York) took the initiative to proclaim Mother Seton “Patroness of the Sea Services” – the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the Merchant Marine, and the U.S. Public Health Service.
The U.S. Public Health Service traces its history back to 1798 when it was established by Congress to provide health care to sick and injured merchant seamen. In 1870 the Marine Hospital Service was recognized as a national hospital system with centralized administration under a medical officer, the Supervising Surgeon, who was later given the title of Surgeon General. Mother Seton has a connection with public health as well. Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was the first public health officer for the Port of New York as a result of his work on the yellow fever epidemic in the late 18th century.
The Daughters of Charity have a special connection with the Public Health Service. From 1896 to 2005 the Daughters ministered to patients with Hansen’s disease (formerly known as leprosy) at what is today known as the National Hansen’s Disease Programs, located in Carville, Louisiana. The hospital in Carville was founded in 1894 as the Louisiana Leper Home. The Daughters began their ministry at Carville in 1896. In 1921 the hospital was taken over by the US Public Health Service and became known as U.S. Marine Hospital #66. The Carville site is no longer used for patient care. In the 1990s it was returned to the State of Louisiana, and today it is home to the Louisiana National Guard. The site is also a National Historic District and the home of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum.